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Book Review: Views from the Loft: A Portable Writer’s Workshop edited by Daniel Slager

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The Loft is a well known literary center in Minneapolis, celebrating its 35th anniversary. The publication of Views from the Loft: A Portable Writer’s Workshop extends their support of the midwestern artistic literary community to a wider audience. The book includes sections on teaching, writing, critique, publishing and, of course, writing for life. This last section “Writing for Life” illuminates the thinking that fills the life of a writer with curiosity, celebrates the mysteries of being a fiction writer, discusses creative non-fiction, and the literary life in general.

Many of the essays center around poetry, and a piece by Mark Doty, “In Favor of Uncertainty,” uses the concepts of physics to explain how the wave function keeps a poet always open to new directions, wherever they lead.

Whether you write poetry, memoir, or fiction, you’ll appreciate the energy of the distinct voices present here. The “Teaching” section includes the work of such luminaries as Rick Bass, Tess Gallagher, and Kathleen Norris as she cuddles up with her self-censor. In the “Critique” section, Vivian Gornick writes an excellent summary of the dilemma of memoir as reality. Its questions and concerns are relevant to all literature.

In the “Publication” section, Shannon Olson shares her experiences on book tour, with some realities many authors don’t anticipate when they hit the road. “The act of writing is so different from actually being on tour. People want to walk away with something more real than the book.”

This is a book that like the long life of The Loft, deserves time to absorb, reflect, and embrace the power of the place and the group that keep writing alive. The life of a writer, like The Loft, is always a work in progress, and Views from the Loft will aid you as you grow toward your next chapter.

One piece recalls, from a lecture by Galway Kinnell, the distinction between writing that is “merely personal,” containing too much that is of interest only to the writer …. and that which is “truly personal,” more open, more hospitable to the reader.

Nien Cheng, author of Life and Death in Shanghai says there is cathartic value in writing about suffering or any emotionally-charged personal experience. “The first draft has to be an emptying out of all truths, some so closely held that we can’t see them until we get them down on paper. … That doesn’t mean we are obligated to tell all to everyone, but that we cannot select the truths worth telling or find the best form in which to convey them until we’ve done an honest and careful self-examination.

Review based on ARC e-galley received from the publisher

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About Helen Gallagher